How To Paint Unfinished Poplar? A complete Guide

If you have gone for a poplar exterior or interior, you may be looking to paint it as well for a more refined look. It may feel a little bit like going against the norms when it comes to painting wood, but it is important to keep in mind that poplar comes in the category of inexpensive and less attractive wood.

When working with less attractive wood, a little paint and a few touch-ups here and there can completely transform your wood and make it more appealing as compared to before. With a few steps and some dedication, you can get a gorgeous look in no time.

What is Poplar?

So, for those who are not familiar with wood and its types, poplar (also known as tulip poplar or yellow poplar) is a well-known wood species used to make furniture, toys, cabinets, carvings, decorations, plywood, and more.

Poplar is confused with being hard as it is a hardwood, but it is one of the softest woods available in the market, making it easier to cut, carve, and nail. Primarily found in creamy or yellowish brown shades, this budget-friendly wood is easily available since it is a fast-growing tree. Wood products made from poplar are also considered eco-friendly as poplar is harvested with ease and does not come in the category of endangered species.

How to Paint Poplar Wood

Painting poplar is a relatively simple and easy process as poplar takes paint well. To prep poplar for paint, you need to clean the wood, sand it, and prime it. It is vital to prepare the wood before proceeding to paint it. You can begin painting after priming.

The Best Way to Stain Poplar Wood 

Staining and poplar don't usually go together, as most people find it difficult to stain poplar. Given below is the best way to stain poplar step by step:

● The first step when staining poplar wood is to sand the desired item or area using heavy-grit sandpaper. Wipe towards the direction of growth of grain.

● The next step is to smoothen the wood. Use 180 to 220-grit sandpaper for this step. Even out the surface and wipe off any extra wood shavings.

● Dip a cloth in warm water and add a mild soap to the water. Rub the cloth all over the poplar.

● Use a water-based dye all over the desired surface. Let it dry for some time before staining.

● Now that the poplar is prepped for staining pick a gel stain of your choice and start staining! Make sure the poplar is completely dry before doing so.

Is Poplar Good for Staining?

Poplar wood is ideal for paint application, but when it comes to staining, it tends to get smudged and uneven, so most people find the process to be a bit challenging. However, poplar usually looks more attractive and presentable after staining, so, yes, poplar is suitable for staining.

How To Paint Unfinished Poplar Wood (A Step-By-Step Guide)?

Now we'll be talking about the most vital part of the article; how to paint unfinished poplar. Listed below is a step-by-step guide on how to paint poplar the right way.

● The first step is to prep your poplar for paint-when it comes to prepping, the first thing you will do is to sand down the desired object or surface. Sanding is a necessary step whether the poplar is built by you or purchased. Use coarse sandpaper and start sanding in the same direction as the grain to prevent an uneven and jagged surface. This will also help the paint go on more smoothly.

● The next step is to cover the surroundings of your desired area or object. Make sure to use tape to cover the surroundings if your desired object or surface is fixed to the wall.

● Now it's time to prime the wood. The first and most important step of priming wood is to choose the right primer. Oil-based primers are the way to go when dealing with wood and its types. Oil-based primers prevent moisture from seeping into the wood.

would suggest going for shellac primers which work well both on finished and unfinished poplar. Although shellac primers are very fast-drying, we recommend letting the wood dry for at least 24 hours before putting another coat on it. Shellac primer can also be covered with almost any type of paint, making the painting process rather convenient.

● After being finished with the first coat, leave the object or area for a minimum of 24 hours before putting on another coat or painting it. Sand between primer coats for a smoother finish.

● Before getting into painting your poplar, the first and most important step is choosing the right paint. Choosing the right paint mainly depends on the primer you use. While latex paint is the most advisable choice to go with after an oil-based primer because of its durability and sustainability, opting for an oil-based paint is guaranteed to give comparatively much better results.

● Poplar is known for taking paint well. Of all the wood types, it is the ideal surface to paint over as paint settles well over it. After your primer is completely dried and your surface is clean and smooth enough for the paint to go over it, begin painting! Dip the brush's bristles in the paint and start painting in slow and even strokes. It is better to leave the paint on for 2 to 3 hours between applications for a glossy finish.

Can You Paint Poplar with A Primer?

Yes, you can, and it is advised to do so! Priming poplar goes a long way to smoothen the wood and prep it for painting or staining. Oil-based primers are considered the best for wood as they go on pretty well and prevent any moisture from seeping into the wood.

Is It Hard to Paint Cabinets?

Compared to other painting projects, cabinets are usually considered hard to paint. Painting cabinets is not that difficult if all the necessary steps are followed, and the wood is primed properly. Choose the right paint and let it dry completely before using the cabinet.

Is Poplar a Good Exterior Wood?

Although poplar is mostly used for interior woodwork, it can be utilized outdoors as well as long as it is kept dry. Wood cannot be completely kept dry at all times, but you can limit its exposure to moisture by painting over it.

Is Poplar A Hardwood or Softwood?

Poplar is a hardwood tree, but that does not necessarily mean that it is hardwood. It is one of the softest wood types available in the market and can be carved, nailed, and cut easily. So, that is also one of the reasons why it is mainly used in interior work rather than the exterior.

Is Poplar Good for Carving?

Since poplar is the softest wood in hardwood, it is excellent for cutting, carving, and nailing. It is also inexpensive and easily available, making it an excellent choice for making furniture, cabinets, toys, and other such items.

Is Poplar Good for Furniture?

Most people go for poplar when it comes to furniture as it is incredibly inexpensive, easy to cut, carve, and shape. It is also lightweight, resistant, strong, and has exceptional workability, which makes it easier to work with.

Poplar Vs. Pine

When it comes down to pine or poplar, poplar wood is harder and more sustainable than pine. If talking about strength, it depends on what type of pine is being discussed. Yellow pine is found to be stronger than poplar, but, on the other hand, white pine is weaker than poplar. Poplar is also relatively easy to work with as compared to pine. It is known to be more durable than pine as well.

Can You Use Primer for Unfinished Cabinets?

Using a primer on unfinished cabinets is not just important but a necessary step. It is advised to clean and sand cabinets before priming them. Apply your first coat of primer and leave it to dry for an hour before proceeding to put on the next coat. Gentle sanding after the priming process will result in a smoother and much more even surface.

Best Primer for Poplar

Priming poplar before painting is extremely vital, and choosing the right primer is even more important. As mentioned before, oil-based primers are perfect for poplar wood. We would suggest giving shellac primer a shot as it dries fast and can work with almost any surface.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

Can You Paint Unfinished Poplar?

To paint poplar, you need to prepare it first. Before painting poplar, clean it properly, sand it, use a high-quality primer, and then proceed to paint. Select a good oil-based paint, and you're good to go! Unfinished poplar can be painted easily if all the steps are correctly followed.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Poplar Wood?

Poplar wood is known to take paint application rather well. When picking a good paint for poplar wood, purchase an oil-based or latex paint. What kind of paint you would use on poplar also depends on the type of primer you applied? If you go for shellac primer, it is recommended to use oil-based paint over it. And if you chose latex primer, you should opt for latex paint to go over it.

How Do You Finish Raw Poplar Wood?

There are several ways you can finish raw poplar wood. You can choose to paint it, oil stain it, condition it, or gel stain it. However, every one of these processes requires a proper priming procedure. No matter which one of these processes you decide to go through with, cleaning and priming the wood is an absolute must.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Unfinished Wood?

The most common choice for unfinished wood is water-based, latex, acrylic, or gloss paint. However, out of all of these, oil-based paint is the best one to pick when unfinished wood is concerned. Oil-based paint goes on wood well, has more durability, and gives the wood an attractive glossy finish. No matter what paint you end up using, priming is a must. Priming wood before painting is an important step to take to achieve a good finish.

What Happens If You Paint Wood Without a Primer?

If you don't prime wood before painting it, your first coat of paint will end up looking blotchy and uneven. As mentioned, many times throughout this article, priming wood before painting is an essential and necessary step that one mustn't forget.

Other problems you could face when dropping primer include paint peeling off the wood, increased chances of your wood staining, and your wood being more prone to damage. It is paramount to acknowledge that there is more to the purpose of a primer than just providing a base coat for the paint.

How Many Coats of Primer Do I Need for Bare Wood?

When priming bare wood, most people usually go for two coats of an oil-based primer. Two coats of primer are enough to fill in the cracks and pores if the wood remains uneven even after prepping it.

This amount of primer will also smoothen the surface and decrease the chances of the paint smudging after applying primer. If you prefer using a water-based primer, two coats are enough to fill in the pores and make the paint go on smoothly.


In conclusion, painting poplar is a straightforward process. For the best finish, all you need is a little dedication and to follow all the necessary steps properly, and you can change that flat, inexpensive piece of wood into a gorgeous and sheeny ornament to die for! Remember, prepping and priming the poplar the correct way does wonders for your poplar's result!

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